When her 29-year-old husband, Harvey, died from cancer, leaving her with two infants and a broken heart, Susan Silberstein was filled with the burning desire to make a difference.
That was 36 years ago and came after her husband had been diagnosed with cancer and given just 12 months to live.
His life sentence led her to switch fields from linguistics to cancer prevention and nutrition.
She says that while her husband was enduring seven neurosurgeries and the maximum amount of chemo and radiation his body could tolerate, she spent that year immersing herself in all aspects of his cancer.
“There was no Internet at the time,” says Silberstein. “I was on the phone researching doctors, clinics and therapies all over the world, desperate to find anything that could change his prognosis. But,” she adds, “unfortunately, it was too late for my husband.”
She was determined not to bury with him all that she had gleaned from that long, painful year. In the fall of 1977, Silberstein founded BeatCancer.org , a not-for-profit charitable organization that will celebrate its 35th anniversary with a gala on Sept. 21 at World Cafe Live in West Philadelphia.
“I wanted to help at least one family avoid the terrible tragedy that mine had to endure so I became determined to make lemonade out of lemons,” says Silberstein.
Today, BeatCancer.org has counseled 30,000 cancer patients one-on-one; trained 50-60,000 prevention seekers; and provided continuing education for thousands of health care professionals — all on a shoestring budget, often with those involved volunteering their services.
Their mission is to provide research-based education on how to prevent, cope with and beat cancer through diet, lifestyle and other immune-boosting approaches.
“If a patient does an online search, which many do today, they are going to get more than 11 million records. And, of course, that is totally overwhelming to them, and that is why an organization like ours is such a good resource,” Silberstein says.
From all those years of relaying recipes to cancer patients, Silberstein compiled 157 recipes and published them in a cookbook, Hungry for Health.
“After a while, I figured out that I can eat this way. Heck, you don’t have to have cancer to eat this way,” she says.
“That’s the way to prevent disease. And so I wanted people to realize you can eat really healthfully, yet not be a slave in the kitchen all day long, and at the end of the day, have it taste awful, and have no one in the family eat it,” says Silberstein.
The recipes contain no red meat, cow’s milk or refined sugar, but do contain some fish, chicken and turkey. Recipes run the gamut from appetizers and main courses to salads and soups, juices and smoothies to desserts, mostly plant-based and gluten-free.
All the recipes are based upon four nutrition concepts that could save people’s lives, claims the author.
Here are the guidelines:
• Eat primitive: a paleolithic diet, mainly plant-based, containing no chemical pesticides, hormones or additives;
• Eat colorful: fruits and vegetables that boost the immune system and are high in fiber, which aids with digestion and reduces the risk of colon, breast and prostate cancer;
• Eat alkaline: balance out the meat, fish, dairy, eggs, poultry, fats, grains, pastas and sugars, which are acidic, by eating more fruits and vegetables; and
• Eat organic: such products contain three times the amount of nutrients compared to those raised by conventional farming.
Today, chronic diseases are much more prevalent than in years past, says Silberstein. Furthermore, according to the author, the three most common chronic occurring diseases — cancer, heart disease and diabetes — could be prevented by eating a healthy diet, exercising and making lifestyle changes.
Silberstein says prevention is the cure.
She is grateful for the unique way that she fulfills “tikkun olam b’malchut shaddai,” to “repair the world in God’s Kingdom,” a line from the Aleinu long remembered from her days at Camp Ramah now applied every day.
For info on the BeatCancer 35 Live Anniversary Gala, go to: BeatCancer.org or call 610-642-4810.